Spiritual Maturity: A Note to Youth Workers
Part 1: Creating a Healthy Environment Parents Can Support
If you’re like me, you’re quick to condemn parents who don’t appear to take a more active role in supporting the youth group. And by condemn, I don’t mean verbally bashing parents or other nay-sayers. Instead, it’s the internal condemnation that presents a smile as the acid of anger and bitterness rip apart your stomach lining, regardless of how much Maalox you ingest.
- You’re frustrated when parents don’t give the nudge or shove you think would help their child participate.
- You smile and nod as parents give yet another excuse as to why their child won’t be attending a retreat or activity.
- You walk away dejected when you hear a few parents question or demean the youth group, with little to no resistance from usually supportive parents.
That’s frustrating and, likely, undeserving. Or is it? True, the gossip that flitters from family to family is never okay, nor are the thoughtless and often demeaning remarks about the youth program or your perceived work ethic. But sometimes parents have a right to be leery of offering their full support. Have we as youth workers created an environment that parents can support?
There is no perfect youth group. There is no perfect program. There is no perfect youth ministry model. In fact, there are no perfect youth workers. But in my nearly 25 years in ministry (the majority with students) and 14 years as a parent, I haven't found parents looking for perfection. Some do present themselves that way, but once you crack their cold, professional exterior, you’ll find broken people who love their kids and are desperate for help. Parents aren’t looking for perfection, but they are looking for three things:
Before you tune out and shout, “The gospel isn’t safe!” be sure you understand what kind of safety parents desire. Parents will support your missions trip to third-world countries and inner-city neighborhoods. They'll get behind you challenging their teen to live holy lives in an unholy world. Heck, if it were legal, they might even participate in their own round of Chubby Bunny. Ultimately, parents want to know that we have a clue. They want to know when they leave their child under our supervision, that we will care for their child’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It means we take time to think through how we welcome students, how we discipline them, how we split up teams or groups. Parents want us to care for their kids like they would. And that’s reasonable.
Some parents understand ministry philosophy and strategy, and they’ll have opinions whether or not they agree with yours. But most–even the opinionated ones–just want to know that you’ve thought through why you’re doing what you’re doing. Parents have a right to expect their church youth group to be different from the school’s social clubs. They want their kids to yell and scream and have fun, but they also want their kids to be challenged spiritually. They’ll want their kids to have a heart for children around the world, but they also want them to stop bullying their brothers and sisters. Parents want us to put effort into praying for and planning the ministry calendar. And that’s reasonable.
As a parent, I’m frustrated when my school gives me information about an upcoming event, only to change it at the last minute. It’s also aggravating to not find out about an event until an hour before. Granted, sometimes a school or teacher has no control over last-minute changes, and often I don’t find out about events because my children have failed to communicate with me. The issue isn’t whether or not that happens; it’s whether or not that is a pattern. Youth workers need to make clear communication with parents a priority. Whether you haven’t done that in the past because you’re intimidated by parents or because you’ve never thought about it, now is the time to improve. Our technological age provides numerous ways to communicate. And while you don’t have to use each and every mode, focus on one or two and do them well. Parents want to know what’s going on in our youth groups. And that’s reasonable.
Sometimes a parent’s frustration can be ignored, and other times it can sound an alarm. Are we as youth workers providing a ministry context that is safe, has a plan, and clearly communicates what’s happening? If so, thats a healthy start.
To be continued....
Think About It
Why does your youth group exist? What are its goals?
How often do you communicate with families, as a group and as individuals?
Do you have a youth ministry strategy that makes sense? Even if it’s not where you want it to be, are you beginning to lay a solid foundation?